WASHINGTON (AP) — The leader of the U.S. House has promised votes to aid victims of the superstorm that ravaged large parts of the northeast by Jan. 15, a New York lawmaker said Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to cancel an expected vote Tuesday night had outraged lawmakers and officials from storm-stricken New York, New Jersey and elsewhere, including many in his own Republican party.
Republican Rep. Peter King said Boehner will schedule a vote Friday for $9 billion in flood insurance and another on Jan. 15 for a remaining $51 billion in the package. The votes will be taken by the new Congress that will be sworn in Thursday.
King said Boehner made the promise in a private meeting with lawmakers from states affected by Superstorm Sandy. King and others said they were now satisfied that the aid will be forthcoming.
Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine in October. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges.
Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey had lashed out at Boehner on Wednesday for pulling the legislation on Sandy aid, demanding that he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating storm.
President Barack Obama called for an immediate House vote, and governors of the two states called House inaction a “dereliction of duty.”
The House adjourned for the day, set to return on Thursday at 11 a.m. for an hour before the new Congress begins at noon.
Boehner was caught between conservative lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending and Northeast and Mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover more than two months after the storm hit.
The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the “fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn’t include enough spending cuts.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said he was frustrated after Boehner pulled the bill Tuesday night and tried to call him four times, but none of the calls were returned. Christie termed it “absolutely disgraceful” and complained about the “toxic internal politics” of the House majority.
“There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me,” Christie said.
On Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, raised the political temperature even more. She said Boehner should come to Staten Island and the Rockaways to explain his decision to families whose homes and businesses were destroyed, and added: “But I doubt he has the dignity nor the guts to do it.”
The move to pull the Sandy bill by Boehner even came as a surprise to the No. 2 Republican in the House, a Republican official said.
A House Republican leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was ready to have the House vote on the bill and was surprised when the speaker made the decision late Tuesday to let it die for this session of Congress.
Obama, meanwhile, called for House Republicans to vote on the Sandy aid “without delay for our fellow Americans.” The president said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need “immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us.”
The White House said Obama spoke Wednesday with Christie about the importance of the disaster aid bill, and that the president’s staff was in touch with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s team, too, as Obama lobbied for House action.
Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, issued a joint statement, saying, “The fact that days continue to go by while people suffer, families are out of their homes, and men and women remain jobless and struggling during these harsh winter months is a dereliction of duty.”
Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner’s decision amounted to a crushing blow to states battered by the late October storm.
“There was a betrayal,” said Grimm.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the storm. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress’ term ends Thursday at noon. An amendment for $33 billion in additional aid, partly to protect against future storms, was also being considered but was seen as having less chance of passage.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this story.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.